1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
A mother is pleasantly surprised one afternoon. She says to her daughter: “Wow! You actually washed the dishes, cleaned the house, washed our dirty linens and clothes, did the groceries and cooked lunch! It’s not Mother’s Day, it’s not my birthday. What made you do all these wonderful things today?”
Her daughter answers: “Aw come on, Ma. Don’t you know I love you? And have you forgotten that love is a many-splendored thing?”
Oh, that we know, we might say. But what if Love were a person? In fact, he is, says Pope St John Paul II in his encyclical ‘Dominum et Vivificantem’ (Lord and Giver of Life). “Love-in-Person” is “the Holy Spirit”, says the saintly pope. We see and experience how many-splendored he is in what he does in and through us, the Church, formally and officially born on Pentecost.
Love-in-Person is presented in our readings through the symbols of wind and fire (first reading) as well as the breath of new life and the forgiveness of sins (Gospel).
Wind/breath/air in Hebrew is ‘RUAH’ which also means ‘spirit’. Wind and fire in our experience are ambivalent. They can be both destructive and life-giving at the same time. Think of the super typhoons Yolanda and Ruby and what they had wrought on us. But also think of the air we breathe or the cool gentle mountain breeze that revive our spirits. Remember also the fires in Metro Manila, the fiery lava of Hawaii’s volcanoes, the forest and bush fires in parts of the US and Australia. But also think of the fire that cooks your food or lights your candle during a brownout. Wind and fire can bring horrendous catastrophe to life and property, but also nourish and support them.
Well, in regard to us the Church the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit destroy only sin and its consequences. On the other hand, he pours on us God’s very presence and acts that support, enhance, shape and nourish his life in us.
In the Acts we see how He destroys the fear of the apostles and that of the early Christians. He destroys their disunity and confusion, extending the gift of understanding to non-Christians who understand their proclamations in their own tongue. The Spirit destroys the elements and forces of sin and death; he builds up, nourishes and sustains the forces of faith, life, courage, unity and service. This is what Paul the Apostle underlines in the second reading. Even believing that Jesus is “Lord” is possible only through the Spirit. So is recognizing that the gifts are not given to only one or a few because there are many different gifts but one Spirit. It is in this same Spirit, and only in him, will we find true unity. Today the Philippines is going through a string of moral and spiritual crises. Cardinal Tagle points to a “crisis of truth” in which we often are unable to distinguish the “true” from “fake news”. There is a “crisis of disunity” despite calls for unity after the May 14 Polls. But there is little prayer to the Holy Spirit. As a priest once said in his Pentecost homily: “Call for unity with all your might. But if it is not coming from the Spirit, we might as well bark at the moon…”
Some obstacles to unity in our midst are disrespect for life and human dignity, spiteful violations of human rights, intolerance of dissent, the sense of vindictiveness. That is why the Spirit is the Risen Jesus’ gift to us: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive shall be forgiven. Whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn 20:23).
We need to receive the Holy Spirit not only in our individual hearts but also in our political, economic and social institutions. Unless we do, real personal, communal or national progress would remain a wishful thinking. Let us thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only he can destroy sin and its consequences in us. Only he can extend to us God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Without him, to say we would be helpless is an understatement. But, with him, we can rise again to the heights of our Pentecost origins.